A Brief History of Londons Chinatown by chenboying


									Press Information: For Immediate Release

                A Brief History of London’s Chinatown

Chinatown is an integral part of London’s history: haunt of Boswell and
Reynolds, birthplace of the post office, first site of Ronnie Scott’s, host to
immigrant communities from the Huguenots to the Maltese and now London’s
vibrant Chinese quarter. The bustling Chinese community of restaurants and
businesses has been here since the 1950s; however, the Chinatown story goes
much further back – right across London and all the way to the Far East.

London’s original Chinatown was in the East End, where Chinese employees of the
East India Company had first appeared in the 18th century. The Company employed
thousands of Chinese sailors; most were based in China, but a small number chose
to leave their ships and settle in the docks at Limehouse. By 1914, there were a few
hundred Chinese running some 30 Chinese businesses in Limehouse: mostly small
shops and restaurants which catered for Chinese seamen. However, the post-war
years posed a major threat to the small community; Limehouse had been destroyed
during the London Blitz, and the decline of the British shipping industry resulted in
new union rules that made it virtually impossible for non-British seamen to find work
on British ships.

By 1950, London’s Chinese were short of income and short of a place to live.
However, a new phenomenon was to turn this situation around. British soldiers had
returned from the Far East with a new appetite for Chinese cuisine. A few
restaurateurs set up business in Gerrard Street in the West End, a street that already
had a reputation for interesting cuisine as the site of some of London’s first European
restaurants. The popularity of the new Chinese establishments attracted more
Chinese entrepreneurs away from the East End to seek their fortunes, and the
Chinatown of today was born.

The area in which this new Chinatown would stand had an interesting history: one
that stretched back to the terrible Great Fire of 1666 in which London was destroyed
by flame. In the aftermath, attention turned west of the old city to the area of present-
day Soho which was then mostly farmland with a prime location near the three royal
palaces of Westminster, Whitehall and St. James. The area of modern-day
Chinatown was a military training ground where soldiers drilled with pikes and
primitive muskets.

In 1677, Lord Gerrard, the owner of the area, gave permission to a developer named
Nicholas Barbon to build houses on the military ground. Barbon completed Gerrard
Street in 1685 and then acquired the adjoining land on the east side from Lord
Newport. Here, he built more houses and a livestock market, complete with a market
hall and slaughterhouse which stood on the site of the present-day Newport Court.

                        A Brief History of London’s Chinatown
                                      Page 2 of 2

Within a century, the area had developed a lively reputation. The upstairs floor of the
market hall was taken over by a congregation of immigrant French Huguenots and
was named ‘the Butcher’s Church’ after the slaughtermen downstairs. Gerrard Street
became well known for its artists and was home to many of the most famous
painters, metalworkers and writers of London. Intellectuals and political luminaries
met at the Turk’s Head inn to discuss the issues of the day in the liberally alcoholic
atmosphere. In the 19th century, the Newport Market area developed a reputation as
a notorious criminal slum which persisted until the new streets of Shaftesbury
Avenue and Charing Cross Road were driven through it in the late 1880s. All the
while, new waves of immigrants arrived in the area: Italians, then Jews, then Maltese.
Kate Meyrick ran the notorious ‘43’ club at 43, Gerrard Street and Ronnie Scott set
up his first jazz club in the basement of number 39. By the time the Chinese arrived
in the 1950s, the area had developed a reputation for great nightlife and cheap
commercial rents.

By the late 1960s, Chinatown was truly established as a centre for London’s Chinese
community – now numbering in the tens of thousands as more and more Chinese
workers arrived from the British territory of Hong Kong. The area became home to a
Chinese supermarket, a Far Eastern travel agency and other services set up to cater
for the ever-increasing number of restaurant workers in the area. Families were
reunited as wives and children arrived from Hong Kong to join their husbands; and as
the community grew, so did the area’s reputation for world-class Chinese cuisine.
Chinese Gates, street furniture and a Pavilion were added as Chinatown came of
age - symbols of the success and the cultural heritage of this fascinating area of


For further information, please contact Ed Fleming or Chris Pilbeam
Tel: 0870 444 4568
Email: chinatown@fourcommunications.com

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